Cat Power Biography

Cat Power is the stage name of American singer/songwriter Chan Marshall (born Charlyn Marie Marshall on January 21, 1972). She is known for her minimalist style, sparse guitar and piano playing, and breathy vocals.


Chan Marshall was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Marshall's father, Charlie, is a blues musician and itinerant pianist. Her childhood involved much upheaval, with Marshall living throughout the Southern United States (Greensboro, North Carolina; Bartlett, Tennessee; and Georgia and South Carolina), back and forth between parents and her grandmother. In interviews she has openly discussed her childhood and stated that the constant traveling prepared her for the touring life of a professional musician.
After dropping out of high school, she started performing under the name Cat Power while in Atlanta, backed by musicians Glen Thrasher, Marc Moore, and others. While in Atlanta, Marshall played her first live shows as support to her friends' bands, including Magic Bone and Opal Foxx Quartet. Due to her close relationships with the various people involved, she has stated that her involvement in music at this time was primarily a social interest rather than an artistic one. She also stated in a 2007 interview for Soft Focus that the music itself was more experimental and that playing shows was often an opportunity for her and her friends to get drunk and take drugs.

Early years: 1992-1999

In 1992 she moved to New York City with Glen Thrasher. It was Thrasher who introduced her to New York's free-jazz and experimental music scene. In particular she cites a concert by Anthony Braxton with giving her the confidence to perform in public. Her first New York show was at a warehouse in Brooklyn and she has described her early New York shows as "more improvisational." One of her shows during this period was as the support act to Man or Astro-man? and consisted of her playing a two string guitar and singing the word "no" for fifteen minutes. Around this time she made the acquaintance of God Is My Co-Pilot, a relationship that resulted in them releasing her first single "Headlights" in a limited run of 500 copies on their Making of Americans label.
In 1994 she opened for Liz Phair in New York. In attendance were Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar, who encouraged her to record, and played on her first two albums, 1995's Dear Sir and 1996's Myra Lee, the latter taking its name from Marshall's mother. Both albums were recorded in New York on the same day in December 1994 and display a lack of conventional song structures. In 1996 she was signed to Matador Records and, along with Foljahn and Shelley, recorded her third album, What Would the Community Think, which spawned a single and music video, "Nude as the News".

In late 1996, following a three-month tour co-headlining with the band Guv'ner in support of the release of What Would the Community Think, Marshall disappeared from the music scene, initially working as a baby sitter in Portland, Oregon and then moving to a farmhouse in Prosperity, South Carolina with then boyfriend Bill Callahan. The plan was to permanently retire from public performance but during a sleepless night resulting from a nightmare, Marshall wrote several new songs. These songs would make up the bulk of Moon Pix. The record was recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne in eleven days with backing musicians Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three. The album was well-received by critics, and gained her recognition in the indie rock scene. However, during subsequent tours Marshall states that she had grown tired of her own material. This resulted in a series of shows during 1999 where Marshall provided musical accompaniment to the silent movie The Passion of Joan of Arc. The shows combined original material and many covers, many of which would later see release on The Covers Record, a collection of cover songs recorded at various sessions in 1998 and 1999. A selection of covers that didn't make it on to the album were recorded at Peel Acres, home of the British DJ John Peel. The session was broadcast on his BBC Radio 1 show and featured Marshall's own interpretations of Bob Dylan's "Hard Times in New York Town" and Oasis's "Wonderwall", amongst others.

Personal struggles: 2000-2006

By the start of the decade, Marshall's live performances had become erratic and unpredictable, with the New Yorker suggesting, "It is foolhardy to describe a Cat Power event as a concert" before citing "rambling confessions" and "[talking] to a friend's baby from the stage." Marshall later attributed this period to a drinking problem, telling HARP magazine in 2006 "I didn't know I was messed up."
In 2003 she resumed releasing original material with You Are Free, which featured guest musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis. A music video directed by Brett Vapnek, was released for the song "He War".

2004 saw the release of a DVD Speaking for Trees, which featured a single, nearly 2-hour static shot of Marshall performing in a woodland, and was accompanied by an audio CD containing the eighteen-minute song "Willie Deadwilder", featuring M. Ward on guitar. Also this year Marshall lent her vocals to the track "I've Been Thinking" from the Handsome Boy Modeling School album, White People. Marshall toured through 2005, including an Australian tour supporting Nick Cave and an appearance at the Patti Smith-curated Meltdown festival. The shows largely consisted of material that would appear on her next album. In 2005 Marshall was featured on the song "Great Waves" from Dirty Three's album Cinder.

The Greatest, was released in January 2006. This was not a greatest hits record but rather the Matador Records-arranged collaboration with Al Green's guitarist Teenie Hodges and other musicians. Following its release, Marshall canceled previously arranged live shows in North America and Europe. She was struggling with a relationship with a young Miami investment banker. Ultimately, Marshall used the hiatus to recover from what she described as a "psychotic break" that had left her feeling suicidal and was brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse. As part of her recovery she was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Miami's Mount Sinai Medical Center but left after a week, stating "being in there wasn't me." She later likened the experience to "a pit of hell." Marshall gave a first person account of her breakdown in an interview for the November 2006 issue of Spin.

She returned to live performance in April 2006, playing with the Memphis Rhythm Band and as a solo performer, including a performance at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in New York (a fund raiser for the charity "Music for Youth").

Critical and commercial success: 2007 - present

Marshall put together a new band in Winter 2006 with whom she toured and recorded throughout 2007. The Dirty Delta Blues Band features Judah Bauer (from Blues Explosion), Gregg Foreman (The Delta 72), Erik Paparazzi (Lizard Music), and Jim White (from Dirty Three).
Also in 2007, she became the first female solo act to win the Shortlist Music Prize when The Greatest was voted album of the year in June. Earlier in the year she was nominated in the Best International Female Solo Artist category at the annual Brit Awards. The Dirty Delta Blues band recorded an album of covers called Jukebox which was released on January 22, 2008, on Matador Records.

In September 2008, Marshall and members of the Dirty Delta Blues (Erik Paparazzi & Gregg Foreman) recorded their version of David Bowie's Space Oddity for a Lincoln car commercial.

On December 9, 2008, an EP entitled Dark End of the Street was released by Matador. The release consists of left-over cover songs from the Jukebox sessions.

A version of the gospel song "Amazing Grace" - culled from a live performance during her recent tour with the Dirty Delta Blues band - was released on the 4AD charity compilation Dark Was The Night: A Red Hot Compilation, available from February 17, 2009.

In an article from Spin, Marshall says of her next proper studio LP, "I'm producing it. One song is called "Leopard," I used to sing it when I was 26. There's another song, a spiritual song called "Mountaintops." And there's a really sweet song called "Funny Things" that's like a little kid's tap-dance song about having special secret thoughts: "Funny things in your dreams/Can you whisper talk to me?" And then there's "Silent Machine," which I actually wrote a long time ago. There's another song called "Oh Time." It's about my ex and it's about forgiveness. My friend Susanna always cries when I play it."

In an interview with prominent Australian music journalist Nick Milligan for Reverb Magazine's January 2010 issue, Marshall revealed some of her feelings towards the act of recording music. "Once a song is recorded, it's taken for granted that that's what the song sounds like," Marshall said. "I feel like that's not true. Once you've played the song a thousand times, your life experiences affect the way you perform the song and the way the song actually grows and lives. The recording should actually come after - it just seems weird that you record the song and then play it afterwards. I don't know how to feel good about recording. It's strange - it's like trapping ghosts. It's like math. Or trapping the meaning of life. That doesn't really feel right."

Collaborations and contributions

Around this time, Marshall collaborated with Mick Collins (of The Dirtbombs) on a recording of Ludwig Rellstab's poem "Auf Dem Strom" for the film Wayne County Ramblin'. Marshall sang the poem in German, though she does not speak the language.

Since returning to the stage Marshall has contributed guest vocals to several albums. She performed a duet with model Karen Elson on an English cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je t'aime... moi non plus" for the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited. She also sang lead vocal on the Ensemble track "Disown, Delete" and reworked "Revelations" with Yoko Ono for Ono's 2007 album Yes, I'm a Witch. She also performed guest vocals for Faithless and El-P. She also duets on the Dexter Romweber Duo song "Love Letters".

In 2007, Marshall contributed songs to the soundtrack of Ethan Hawke's new movie The Hottest State, recording with Jesse Harris and Terry Manning, and the Academy Award-winning Juno.

In early 2008, she collaborated with Beck and producer Danger Mouse on the album Modern Guilt. She contributed backing vocals to two tracks, "Orphans" and "Walls". The album was released in July of that year.

In V for Vendetta Cat Power's cover of The Velvet Underground song "I Found a Reason" is played on V's jukebox.

"Maybe Not" of the album You Are Free was featured and in the prom scene in the movie The Quiet.

The Jukebox version of "Metal Heart" was played during the closing scene in the episode Crime Slut (season 1, episode 4) of the TV-series The Unusuals.

Two songs, "Living Proof" and "The Greatest", make an appearance in Wong Kar Wai's first movie in English, My Blueberry Nights.

Cat Power's cover of "Hanging on the Telephone" was used for a 2005 Cingular commercial.

Cat Power's cover of Cat Stevens's "How Can I Tell You" was featured in a 2006 commercial for DeBeers.

Cat Power's cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" was featured in a 2008 car commercial for the 2009 Lincoln MKS.

Cat Power's cover of Michael Hurley's "Werewolf", from her album You are Free, is played during Jessica Biel's strip dance performance in the movie Powder Blue released in 2009; the same song is also featured in Broken Embraces staring Penelope Cruz.

Cat Power's song "Half of You", from the album You Are Free, was featured on the HBO show True Blood in an episode 6 love scene, and "Fool", from the same album, was featured in episode 4 of the third series of UK teen drama Skins.

Cat Power's song "The Greatest," from her album The Greatest, was featured in the 2009 film 17 Again.

The TV show Life featured several of Cat Power's songs:

"Maybe Not", from the album You Are Free, was played in a scene shortly before the credits during the episode Initiative 38 (series 2, episode 20); "Metal Heart", in the version from the album Jukebox, was played during the scene where Charlie Crews is hallucinating in the episode The Business of Miracles (season 2, episode 3) "Cross Bones Style" appeared in "Black Friday" (series 2, episode 8) in the scene where Charlie Crews meets up with his wife at a hotel.

Chan Marshall provides backup vocals on Marianne Faithfull's cover of "Hold On" by Neko Case on the 2009 album Easy Come Easy Go.

Other work

In October 2006 she became the celebrity spokesperson for a line of jewelry from Chanel, beginning a series of non musical activities that continued into the following year during downtime between touring and recording commitments. In 2007 her voice could be heard in commercials for Cingular and De Beers in the United States and Garnier in the United Kingdom. Previously Marshall had done advertisements for GAP. She appeared in Doug Aitken's MOMA installation Sleepwalkers, which followed the nocturnal lives of five city dwellers. Marshall can be seen as a postal worker living in New York, performing with other notable participants such as Tilda Swinton.

Performance style

Marshall’s live shows have been known for their unpolished nature, with songs beginning and ending abruptly or blending into one another without clear transitions. She has also cut short performances without explanation. On some occasions this has been put down to her suffering from stage fright and the influence of alcohol. Marshall has admitted abusing alcohol in the past; in a 2006 interview with the New York Times, she declared herself to be sober, which she defined as having had "seven drinks in seven months."

Recently, Marshall's performance style has been said to be much more enthusiastic and professional. An article in Salon called The Greatest "polished and sweetly upbeat", stating that Marshall was "delivering onstage". In the article, Marshall states that her new found musical collaborators and sobriety are largely responsible for her increased confidence onstage.
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